Cat vs. Landlord
June 27, 2007 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Can our Sydney landlord really demand that we get rid of our cat?

When we signed the lease for our apartment four years ago, I asked the letting agent whether we'd be able to get a pet. "No." Okay, fine. A year later, the lease was up and they came do an inspection. We're good tenants. They put us on another lease. We decided we wanted a cat. Every single person I asked in Sydney (including the Sydney Morning Herald) said that pets in Sydney apartments were basically "Don't ask, don't tell" and that we should go ahead and get one anyway. So we did. In fact, you all helped us adjust to life with Puss Puss. She's totally indoor; she's quiet; she's never crapped on the floor. Yeah, there are a few worn spots in the carpet, but you'd expect that anyway after four years, right?

So last night we got the dreaded letter in the post box. It was addressed to everybody in our block and said that the letting agency had become aware that some tenants were keeping cats. (And something about "litter" being seen in common areas.) As this is in breach of the rental agreements, we're all supposed to get rid of them.

1) I'm not even sure this is pointed at us. There are at least two cats that run around outside loose in our block (and have tags). My first thought was that the "litter" might refer to their scat, and them possibly digging in people's gardens.

2) Even if it is pointed at us - can they actually force us to get rid of her or even evict us? I've done a fair amount of Internet searching, and so far everything I've come up with applies to other states. This page seems to indicate that in the ACT at least, a "no pets" clause violates the spirit of clause 52, and the Tenants Union "contends that having a pet or pets is a normal, common part of using rented premises for residential purposes." According to Findlaw, the Victorian Tenants Union has the similar belief that "you cannot be evicted unless your landlord can prove your pet is causing a nuisance, damaging the property or endangering the safety of neighbours."

Yeah, we broke the agreement. No need to point that out. The issue is whether that's even a fair or legal clause to begin with. Additionally, well, I feel like we DESERVE to have a cat. We're good tenants. We've never been late on a rent payment, and it's gone up several times. We don't have loud parties. We have a cleaner and we keep the place looking good. We're responsible pet owners who keep their pet clean, immunized, and indoors.

So what do we do? Have any of you been in a similar situation? My immediate plan is just to disregard the notice until they force the issue. But what are the options? I'm thinking I can put the case to them that we should be allowed to keep her, and that we're happy to pay an extra bond or submit to inspections or whatever. Or are we doomed to have to decide between our cat and our apartment?
posted by web-goddess to Home & Garden (34 answers total)
With a grain of salt, as I'm not in that city or country, but given that you've asked and been denied, and there is no provisions for it in the lease I am guessing you have no legal footing or recourse. If you wish to keep her I'd do what you are doing but also check to see how much notice they have to give before inspecting your apartment and have someone lined up who can cat sit for you. In fact, if you have a good place to do so I'd relocate your kitty for a month or so, till this blows over just in case they can invoke something like a on the spot inspection based on reasonable suspicion.
When your lease comes up again I'd consider moving somewhere where a pet is allowed, or be willing to if they will not make an exception for you.
posted by edgeways at 6:57 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: Actually I forgot to add - we're not currently under a lease. The last one expired and we're simply going "month-to-month," as it's known. I wonder if that makes a difference...
posted by web-goddess at 7:06 PM on June 27, 2007

Speaking as a US landlord, when you're on a month-to-month all they need to do is give you 30 days' notice and you're out. With a lease, at least they'd have to go through a more complicated process and potentially go to court to show you were in breach.

Your last chance here is to beg for a rental agreement that lets you keep the cat for an additional security deposit (or whatever it's called Down Under) and optionally a monthly fee. Here in the US $50-100 for the first and $10-25 for the second is typical.

But no, it doesn't look like you have much room to negotiate. Better start reading the classifieds.
posted by dhartung at 7:10 PM on June 27, 2007

blatantly violating lease + willfully disgregarding notice + month-to-month = time to move

(cat owner and landlord)
posted by ldenneau at 7:22 PM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: Ouch web-goddess, I feel your pain ... this is a tough time to be looking for rental property in Sydney. I can't offer you any solid advice beyond pointing you to the Office of Fair Trading.

as an aside I can't believe NSW doesn't have the equivalent of a Rental Tenancy Authority, esp seeing how rough the market is in Sydney

You are actually on a slightly better footing as a month to month tenant. The landlord has to give you 60 days notice, rather than the usual 14 days (scroll down). I'd suggest you just keep your kitty, and see how it all pans out. It's likely its not your cat that's the problem, from what you describe.
posted by arha at 7:25 PM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: When you have rent inspections, does the cat wander around the unit? I suspect that if you don't let the cat outside, so no neighbours see it, and there's no evidence of a cat when they do rent inspections, there's probably not a lot they can do.

I'm in Perth not Sydney, but over here, it looks like they'd have to serve you personally with three written breach notices for having the cat before they could evict you. I've never worked out what evidence they require— I've had 'illegal' cats many a time, and never had a problem with it. I've always taken them to a friend's house for rent inspections though, and hidden their bowls etc.

It also seems more likely they were referring to the outside cats in the letter they sent, otherwise they would have addressed the letter to individual tenants.

I'd just ignore it and wait until you start getting personally addressed letters before you start worrying— but I'd also hide the cat for rent inspections just in case! Good luck to you and your furry companion.
posted by indienial at 7:27 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: We've only ever had one inspection, and if we had another we'd certainly remove all traces of her. The only way anyone could know that we have a cat would be to see her occasionally sitting in the bedroom window. And to my knowledge we're on good terms with all of our neighbours, so I can't imagine one of them dobbing us in for no good reason.
posted by web-goddess at 7:32 PM on June 27, 2007

I'm a cat person, and I am sure you take great care of your cat and are otherwise model tenants, but you don't deserve to have a cat because you are such angels. Your landlord said no cats; you have a cat. You will either have to move or try to brazen the situation out and possibly be evicted as a result.
posted by misha at 7:47 PM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: Hi, web-goddess!

Do you have a copy of your lease? (If not, you should be able to request one from the agent)

NSW rental leases are standard-form, but can be amended with an attachment (and they usually are, eg to make you pay for steamcleaning the carpets when you leave). I believe that a no-pets rule must be explicitly stated on the lease that you signed (including any aforementioned amendments). If it's not there, I think they have no right to enforce it.

I think the general business practice for landlords owning apartments is for all the apartments to be managed through one agent. Typically, I think this results in blanket rules (eg no pets) for all tenants & apartments. Makes life easier for the agents, you see. My guess is that it's quite likely that there is a standard no-cats clause in the amendments that the agents have tacked onto your lease.

Anyway, some resources to help, including a couple of freebie community legal centres, specifically chosen for your chip of the dale:

Tenants Union of NSW

Redfern Legal Centre

UTS Community Law Centre

Consumer, Trader & Tenancy Tribunal (replacing the Residential Tenancies Tribunal)

NSW Residential Tenancies Act
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:15 PM on June 27, 2007

As a cat owner and renter, in the US at least, if the lease says no cat, you don't have a leg to stand on as far as legal recourse. A lease is designed to lay down rules and make it clear what type of situation you're moving into before you sign.
Also, to say that you deserve a cat is silly. Sorry to sound so harsh but you're the antithesis of a good tenant when you aren't allowed to have a cat and you get one anyhow. I would start looking for another place or get rid of your cat.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 9:03 PM on June 27, 2007

My friends ran into a similar situation in Canada. One day, the building manager's assistant came by to fix an electrical problem. My friends had hidden their cat in a bedroom...unfortunately, that's where the fuse box was. The assistant spotted the cat and was mortified. He apologized profusely but said he absolutely had to report the cat. He told the building manager. My friends were thus served with a 60-day eviction notice, even though they'd lived there for years as problem-free tenants and many other tenants had cats in the "don't ask, don't tell" building. The building manager gently explained that a 60-day notice gave them more time than just terminating the month-to-month lease would have. And they were able to find new accommodations before "eviction" showed up on their file.
posted by acoutu at 9:08 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: Bah. Of course I don't mean that we're ENTITLED to have a cat. But we're good tenants in every way that matters and I just feel like it's a ridiculous rule. But hey, thanks to those of you who felt the need to make me feel worse than I already do.

Anyway, I acknowledged the lease-breaking issue in the original post. But as I found in my research, many tenants groups contend that a "no pets" rule is unenforceable and discriminatory. I guess I'm looking for information or stories of people who've challenged this restriction successfully.

(Thanks to UbuRoivas for the links. I'll definitely be calling some of those advice lines.)
posted by web-goddess at 9:31 PM on June 27, 2007

I think the general business practice for landlords owning apartments is for all the apartments to be managed through one agent. Typically, I think this results in blanket rules (eg no pets) for all tenants & apartments. Makes life easier for the agents, you see. My guess is that it's quite likely that there is a standard no-cats clause in the amendments that the agents have tacked onto your lease.

An afterthought: the Body Corporate for your building might be the party that created the no-pets rule. Compliance with the Body Corporate's regulations is probably a standard clause in all leases.

I faced a similar situation once, in which Curio was spotted & we were told to remove either her, or ourselves-plus-her. That was after a coupla years of her living peacefully with us, entirely within our flat (plus balcony).

Turns out that it was a nosey neighbour who reported us, even though there was no way that our black cat could have possibly crossed her path, or affected her in any way whatsoever. People can be assholes like that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:38 PM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: web-goddess: Community Legal Centres are typically not-for-profit organisations, mostly staffed by Law students wanting some practical experience. Often, but not always, they means-test their clients, so that people who can actually afford lawyers don't crowd out the genuinely poor. I think Redfern is like that, so, gee, shame to hear you lost your job the other day! It looks as if UTS only provides advice for staff & students of the uni, but they have a bunch of publications - FAQs & the like. You'll normally need to ring for an appointment. Legal advice isn't given over the phone.

You really need to find out where the no-pets ruling comes from - eg body corporate rules or signed lease? Spoken word from the agent is easily contested: "they never told us that!".

Take a look at p24 of this pdf from the Tribunal's annual report for an example of a dog owner beating the body corporate, who refused permission to keep the dog in the flat. In that case, it was a flat owner, though, so a clause in the lease was not an issue.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:47 PM on June 27, 2007

Additionally, well, I feel like we DESERVE to have a cat.

Be careful; having even a small sense of entitlement about something like this can cloud your better judgement. In this case, it seems that it clouded your judgement about whether you should violate your lease and get a cat, rather than move into a cat friendly building.

Having said that as politely as I could, they can't make you get rid of your cat -- they can simply kick you and your cat out. If you elect to retain the cat and stay in the apartment, be aware that you may get kicked -- or nothing may happen, as (as you've pointed out) this may not even apply to you directly.

Ultimately, a pet is a big responsibility, and it's important that you make sure you're able to accommodate one rather than simply cross your fingers and hope it all works out. Given how much joy that little cat has brought you, isn't s/he worth moving to a cat-friendly apartment for?
posted by davejay at 10:14 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: It's in the lease. However, the letting agency itself owns our whole block of flats so it's not as if it's a strata issue or anything. They could change the rule if they wanted to. I like the story in that Annual Report. It all comes down to the reasonableness of the request, doesn't it? And I don't see where having a cat is unreasonable. They wouldn't complain if we had a fish tank, would they? And quite frankly, I don't see where there's a great deal of difference.
posted by web-goddess at 10:16 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: I get what you're saying, davejay, but I think one problem is that people outside Sydney aren't understanding that A) it's really, really hard to find pet-friendly accommodation here, and B) having illegal pets is widespread and common. Trust me, I'm just about as straight-laced as they come. I know it's not the best legal defense, but seriously, I wouldn't have broken the rule but for the fact that everybody else does. A new website is launching to help find pet-friendly accommodation, but it isn't up and running yet. From their site:
Australia has the highest rate of pet ownership per household of any country in the world. Despite this, and the fact that pet owners are generally responsible people who make excellent tenants, finding pet friendly rental properties continues to be a challenge for many pet lovers.... And considering the growth in Australian house prices in recent years, buying a house will continue to be out of the reach of many young pet lovers for some time.
If this was only about the hassle of moving, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately based on today's search at Domain, the only available flats in our neighborhood are at a significantly higher rent. (Not to mention that Domain doesn't even allow you to specify pet-friendly, and I'd be willing to bet most of those aren't.)
posted by web-goddess at 10:27 PM on June 27, 2007


I've lived in a lot of places - I've yet to live in an apartment that will allow pets.

Pets cause wear and tear above and beyond normal occupancy; in addition, they are a fairly common allergen. It's one thing if you own the place, it's quite another if you hope to rent it out to someone else in 10 years.

And well, the landlord is most likely well within their rights to kick you out. They *may* be sympathetic ... and kick you out anyway. Discrimination be damned; you broke an agreement which you signed.
posted by ysabet at 10:42 PM on June 27, 2007

Don't feel back about it, Web-goddess. I think it might be easier to find pet-friendly accommodation Stateside than it is here. You're right— it is really common for Aussie tenants to do this. I just spoke to friends who work for real estate companies, and they said they expect around 30% of their tenants to have 'illegal' animals, but "if the tenant was otherwise a good tenant, and they weren't an asshat as a person (ie, rude to the person doing the rent inspections etc), they wouldn't report it".

I know that's just word of mouth, but I hope it makes you feel a bit better. And yeah, it's pretty hard to evict tenants so worst case scenario is that you'll start getting letters, and then think "uh oh, time to move..."
posted by indienial at 11:31 PM on June 27, 2007

gah... back = bad. I'm smurt.
posted by indienial at 11:31 PM on June 27, 2007

you could try arguing that it's not your cat, just some neighbourhood cat that hangs around your place a bit. in fact, so much that you felt like it should be provided with its own kitty toilet & some food & milk from time to time, and, er, some catnip toys & a scratching post, and...
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:02 AM on June 28, 2007

But hey, thanks to those of you who felt the need to make me feel worse than I already do.

You're welcome!

They wouldn't complain if we had a fish tank, would they? And quite frankly, I don't see where there's a great deal of difference.

You're being deliberately disingenuous here. You know very well that fish don't have hairballs, or pee on the rug, or scratch furniture, like cats do. Just because you like cats doesn't mean they are apartment-friendly. If no other place you know will rent at the price your landlord rents to you, maybe it's precisely because of the problems other landlords have had with pet-owners in the country with "the highest rate of pet ownership per household of any country in the world."

By the way, I've had a cat and not wanted to pay the extra rent or the initial extra deposit because of it, but I didn't try to argue that I was entitled to, when the lease clearly showed I was in the wrong. Your landlord isn't Hitler.
posted by misha at 12:32 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I meant to add, and I'm sorry I didn't and deserve to get deleted because I didn't, that despite all I have said, I would ignore the notice until I was specifically asked to leave, since you have no way if it is directed at you, BUT I would start looking for other rental properties in less expensive neighborhoods that DO allow cats.
posted by misha at 12:34 PM on June 28, 2007

Why would a landlord care if a cat coughs up a hairball or scratches his tenant's furniture? Peeing on the rug is one thing, but after four years of occupancy, I'd hope the landlord would replace the carpet before renting to new tenants. How often do cats piss anywhere other than their litter box, anyway? None of the cats I've lived with ever did.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 4:05 PM on June 28, 2007

Response by poster: Just to rise to the bait: My cat has never coughed up a hairball. (She's not that long-haired.) She's never peed or puked on the carpet. When I compared her to a fish, I was actually being pretty objective. Other than scratching up our deliberately-cheap, bought-for-that-purpose IKEA couch, you wouldn't know she was here. The allergy thing is the only real reason I can buy, but we've already had the carpeting steam-cleaned once and we definitely would upon moving out.

See, this is why I have a problem with the rule. It seems discriminatory for no good reason. If it was a noise or a damage issue, I could understand that. But it's blatantly obvious that it's a blanket discriminatory rule.

Thanks to everyone who made an effort to answer the question, and especially to the Australians who offered assistance/encouragement. (Though as a friend remarked upon seeing this thread, "Man, I didn't know MetaFilter was so full of little babies afraid of The Man." I expected more people to be on board for this act of civil disobedience.)

The upshot? We've been talking about trying to buy a house for a long time. I guess this is the kick in the ass we needed. So we're going to lay low and start watching the property market. Nothing like paying half a million simply because your landlord doesn't like animals!
posted by web-goddess at 4:31 PM on June 28, 2007

See, this is why I have a problem with the rule. It seems discriminatory for no good reason. If it was a noise or a damage issue, I could understand that. But it's blatantly obvious that it's a blanket discriminatory rule.

True. If you haven't twigged to this yet, Sydney real estate agents (who handle almost all rental properties - it's nearly unheard of to deal directly with the owner) are dickheads, plain & simple. There's nothing in the language that can express my utter contempt for them, so, courtesy of MetaFilter, I offer this Indian swearphrase:

There are dead lizards' eggs in the hairs around their mothers' assholes.

Without exception, they are near-illiterate morons who revel in the tiny amount of power that acting on behalf of the landlord bestows upon them. Although they are supposed to be merely agents who mediate the landlord-tenant relationship, they always see their prime responsibility as being towards the owner of the property. Tenants are generally regarded as little more than potential vandals & troublemakers. They seem to have no concept whatsoever that it's the tenants handing over money that keep them in a job, or that tenants are actually *customers*, who need to be kept happy.

A blanket rule against cats needs to be seen in this light. The landlords probably don't care. The real estate agents, in contrast, see pets as a 5% chance that they might have to call in a cleaner at the end of the lease, or replace a patch of carpet, so they recommend to the owners that they ban them, just to save themselves a tiny amount of work. Assholes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:09 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Man, I didn't know MetaFilter was so full of little babies afraid of The Man." I expected more people to be on board for this act of civil disobedience

OK, I'm on board. You're engaging in civil disobedience already, just by having the cat. You can try to continue keeping her secretly. String it out. When they give you your eviction notice, take them to the Tribunal. It's free & informal, no need for lawyers (and deliberately so). Waste the agent's time with a day of hanging around the Tribunal. They're normally so fucking stupid that they'll have forgotten to bring a crucial piece of paperwork, so will be sent away to return for the hearing another day. That'll at least inject a hundred or two into their direct operational costs, if not more in opportunity cost. The only downside is that they have databases on bad tenants & troublemakers, so you might find it hard to get another lease.

(note that all databases in Australia that contain personal info - ie anything that can be directly related back to you, personally - are supposed to be subject to laws that allow you to see what information they hold about you, and to challenge that information)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:18 PM on June 28, 2007

Aside from that, there isn't really any kind of avenue for you to pursue here, imho. If 'no pets' was part of the lease you signed, they have you by the short & curlies. It's either the cat goes, or you all go.

In spite of what the Vic & ACT tenants associations assert, you're really tilting at windmills if you think you can argue that you are somehow legally allowed to keep the cat.

Your only real alternatives that I can see are either:
* keep the cat as secret as possible & hope for the best;
* plead with the agent / landlord to waive the rule in your case; or
* find a new place.

As an afterthought, the Tribunal involves compulsory mediation before any hearing - the Judge (technically, "member") will refuse to hear any case until you have been seated down with the opponent in a room for an hour to try & settle the issue amicably, with the assistance of a professional mediator. If you are served with an eviction notice, it wouldn't hurt to take them to the Tribunal, and try to get a mediated agreement in this manner that your particular cat is OK. If you're being thrown out anyway, there's no harm in trying this approach.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:36 PM on June 28, 2007

It's probably too late now but...

Our lease has a special clause added - basically if we catch you with cats you've got three days to get the fuck out.

So Kittys go for a visit to nannys or uncle blah blah on inspection day and my OCD tendancies really come into their own to remove all trace of them. Because that's what it's really all about! (And seriously if you could rent a house but have people just stay outside but off the grass you would) And if your kitties are angels like mine you'll have no dramas. Stash Kitties and their things somewhere until the heat dies down. Be sure to get all the tootie prints! Miss one and the jig is up.

But yeah if they said no Kitties that's what it will come down to. But if there's no evidence of them the just deny deny deny.

I've been seriously considering having kitty references and a kitty bond (perhaps non-refundable so yes a bribe) and fill it out all properly and official like. A person that wasn't a jerk would find that funny - and then bam they decide that would be okay. (And then you can add them as another of kitties references too) Include desexed, microchip, vac info ect... Signed with a paw print Owhhh! :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:52 PM on September 7, 2007

Response by poster: Just in case anyone's still wondering how it all worked out: Everything turned out okay. We decided to just sit tight and start seriously looking for a place to buy. No further letters arrived from the agent. Some jerk did leave a box of cat poo with a note on our doorstep telling us to keep our cat inside, to which I responded with a bigass note saying: "That cat outside? ISN'T OURS, JERKFACE." I must have suitably chastened them, because we didn't hear anything after that.

Anyway, a few weeks into our house search, we lucked out and fell ass-backwards into the house of our dreams - RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO OUR APARTMENT. (Mother-effing deal of the century, mate.) We were even able to move in early, so I was able to move the cat over and remove all traces of her from the old place. I was paranoid and worried that the agent at the final inspection would call us out on it, but he barely even looked at the place before rubber-stamping our bond refund. (I think the Sydney rental market is such that even if it had massive claw marks down every wall in the place, they'd still rent it out for $450+/wk.)

So we've got our first home, and the cat's safe. She's just shifted fifty feet to the left. In fact, we're thinking of getting another one as a companion, now that we're all legal and shit. Thanks to everyone who gave advice!
posted by web-goddess at 7:21 PM on November 27, 2007

In fact, we're thinking of getting another one as a companion, now that we're all legal and shit.

What a coincidence! My little Turkish Van x escaped the house during her freakout/settling-in period & decided to use the opportunity to have a bit of sex.

Kittens due soon.

Nothing better than keeping it in the mefamily, right, w-g?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:14 PM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: Oh man. We're definitely interested. Let me know when they're born! Now I just need to research whether a little Van kitten would be a good companion for a four-year-old mixed breed dumb-as-rocks female...
posted by web-goddess at 9:20 PM on November 27, 2007

(well, the little one would be only 1/4 Van)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:05 PM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: That's cool. We were gonna get one from the CPS anyway. Keep me posted!
posted by web-goddess at 1:40 AM on November 28, 2007

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